The first time I tripped and fell into a hole of climate despair was in the fall of 2018, after a slew of frightening headlines announced the findings of a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (commonly known as the IPCC).
A gnawing sense of unease about the climate had been steadily building in the background of my life for several months by that point, but the framing of this particular report took my breath away. “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe,” one headline read. My twins were two years old at the time; they had more than 12 years left of childhood. Still new to motherhood, I didn’t know how to cope with the state of the world I’d brought my children into.
Over the past few years, I’ve gradually shifted into a relationship with climate change that’s far more engaged than it was in 2018. I still experience waves of grief and worry every time a new research study or report comes out with bad news about the state of the planet, but I’ve also gathered a repertoire of ways to take care of myself so that I can sustain my climate activism for the long haul. One of my most important tools is proactive self-care when it comes to frightening climate headlines: I’ve found that knowing in advance when the headlines are likely to be unnerving helps me to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepare.
A new IPCC report will be coming out on Monday, and early signs are that it will be another hard one to read, especially against the heartbreaking backdrop of conflict in Ukraine. In all likelihood, we’ll hear a lot of news about the climate that’s hard to take in over the next few weeks.
Here are nine ideas for caring for yourself if you’re someone who’s as sensitive to climate news as I am—I hope these strategies help you as much as they’ve helped me:
- Identify your support team.
If you anticipate that a barrage of climate headlines may feel emotionally intense, now is a great time to proactively reach out to people in your support circles: arrange a long walk or phone call with a friend, ask for help with childcare, let your loved ones know you may need a little extra TLC, and/or set up a time to meet with a therapist or spiritual counselor. Planning can go a long way in helping you get your needs met.
- Decide when and how you want to take in the news.
It is important to stay informed about what’s going on, but getting every phone notification in real time 24/7 may not be the best for your mental health. If needed, adjust the media notification settings on your phone, and/or allot a specific time each day to review the headlines.
- Expect intense emotions (and welcome them).
Reading stark scientific truths about climate change can bring up a lot of Big Feelings. These emotions are a sign that we care about what’s at stake in the climate crisis—experiences of climate grief, anxiety, and rage at our broken systems are normal and healthy responses to what is actually happening, not a sign that something is wrong with us. Anticipate these emotions, normalize them, and care for yourself accordingly.
- Be in community with others who care.
As much as possible, be selective about who you choose to spend time with when you’re feeling anxious or sad about climate change. Many people have had the experience of feeling isolated in their concern about the climate. If this is true for you, see if you can find ways to spend time with others who care as much as you do, even if you have to connect with them virtually. You are not alone.
- Take things off your calendar.
Are there meetings or appointments on your calendar for the next few days or weeks that might unnecessarily add to your stress or overwhelm? See if you can postpone them, or better yet, take them off your plate entirely. Prioritizing time and space for yourself to just process and be in the coming days matters. (And if you’re a busy mom like me, remember that even a few extra minutes to yourself can make all the difference in the world.)
- Plan for joy, fun, wonder, and laughter.
Things to put ON your calendar when the news has you down: time with the friend who always makes you laugh. The comedy series you’ve been meaning to watch for months. Time outside in nature with small children and/or beloved animals. Laughter, wonder, and joy are necessities for mental health, not luxuries. Treat them as such.
- Engage in community care.
When the headlines are hard to take in, it can often feel like the world is cruel, isolating place. One way to combat feelings of disillusionment is to participate in caring for those in your community. Donate to a local homeless shelter or food kitchen, give blood, volunteer at your child’s school, or offer to bring a meal to a neighbor. Reminding others that they’re not alone can help you feel less alone, too.
- Intentionally take in narratives of hope.
No matter how scientifically sound it may be, hard-to-hear news about the climate crisis does not determine everything that is or isn’t possible in the future. Recommending reading to remind you of this: Active Hope, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone; The Future We Choose, by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, Regeneration, by Paul Hawken, Under the Sky We Make, by Kimberly Nicholas and Saving Us, by Katharine Hayhoe.
- Decide how you want to take action.
If you’re not already engaged in climate action, this is a great time to get involved. Whenever the news gets you down, choose at least one tangible action you plan to take: join a group like Moms Clean Air Force, call your representatives and ask them to act on climate, or learn how to advocate for environmental justice. Better yet, ask a friend to join you—taking action in community makes our actions more powerful, and it helps to build the social connections that keep us healthy and resilient when times are tough.
Whether you’re a seasoned activist or taking tentative first steps towards climate action, tending to your mental and emotional health is a foundational part of staying engaged in the climate movement for the long haul. And we’re going to need you, so take good care of yourself when the headlines hit hard.